In one of my customer meetings over the last few weeks, I heard something that at first seemed very startling, but has grown on me in the subsequent weeks.

This organization, an academic concern, told us that, as they look out on a five-year planning horizon, they are predicting a major technology change.  In five years, they expect that smartphone devices such as iPhones and Blackberries will be the primary device for their end-users....not desktop/laptop computers.

It happens that the same week we had this conversation, there were stories in the news that in the Japanese market, PC sales are losing ground to gadgets.

Overall PC shipments in Japan have fallen for five consecutive quarters, the first ever drawn-out decline in PC sales in a key market, according to IDC. The trend shows no signs of letting up: In the second quarter of 2007, desktops fell 4.8 percent and laptops 3.1 percent.

NEC's and Sony's sales have been falling since 2006 in Japan. Hitachi said October 22 it will pull out of the household-computer business entirely in an effort to refocus its sprawling operations.

"Consumers aren't impressed anymore with bigger hard drives or faster processors. That's not as exciting as a bigger TV," Katayama said. "And in Japan, kids now grow up using mobile phones, not PCs. The future of PCs isn't bright."
Now, I don't know how quickly this happens across-the-board, especially a move into the corporate space.  But for sure it makes sense for certain types of workers -- the package delivery guy who was just at my door, for example.  

There are all sorts of issues -- will input technology evolve in such a way that makes the pocket-sized smartphone more appealing than a laptop or tablet form factor?  Will the wireless networks evolve bandwidth in a way that makes it practical (watching youtube videos on the iPhone, or streaming video on a Verizon device, is just the start of that use case).  Or will this pervasive bandwidth and connectivity lead to a voice-first communication method, where we evolve to videophones and the written word gets left behind?

I don't have the right answer, but I have been enjoying peering into the Pearl -- err, crystal ball -- over the last few weeks to try to figure this out.  Maybe that iPhone upgrade should be on the list for 2008.

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